Monday, January 07, 2013

Is Linking Stealing?

There is a bit of a storm in a tea cup brewing about whether people and organizations which link to content on another site should pay for the privilege. I believe this started with a blog post by McGarr Solicitors entitled "2012: The year Irish newspapers tried to destroy the web" (I hope this link is free!). In this post the blogger writes about the case of the Irish Times demanding payment in the form of a license from Women's Aid for linking to content from the Irish Times newspaper.

(Unauthorized) Snip of screen shot
from The Irish Times 7th January, 2013.
Click image to enlarge.
The Irish Times has stepped back a little bit in today's edition where Johnny Ryan writes that "Links are lifeblood of the web - unauthorised use of content is not". In the near future this link will not be available as you have to pay for archived content in the Irish Times anyway. In Colleges all over the world we educators preach that all sources of material for essays, assignments, and projects must be cited - indeed failure to do so will lead to a charge of plagiarism. No student has to pay to cite any source, these days many do cite web pages, including newspaper sites. Indeed the Irish Times itself promotes linking to content by providing Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other means of sharing the page - ironically this is done with a hyper-link! (see image to left).

Above I have linked to the Irish Times in four places without permission. The "Careful with that Axe, Eugene" blog has advertising on it through Google Adsense - last month it earned me the grand total of €2.31. So I guess technically I am earning money from this blog and arguably the Irish Times is entitled to some of this if I link to their site. Somehow I don't think they will be coming after me!

However, I am now very careful about citing sources, especially with images. I usually try to use quotations and italics when quoting content, and cite the sources - this is standard academic practice. Indeed last April I wrote an Apology to when I used one of their cartoons without permission. I certainly agree that if you use someone else's content that you should cite the source, and if you use it for profit you should pay. But the Web is all about sharing, in 1997 Tim Berners-Lee wrote that “The intention in the design of the web was that normal links should simply be references”. 

To me that is exactly what a link is - a type of reference. On the same page that the screen shot above is from there are advertisements for Peugeot cars, Irish Dancing, Hotel Lanzarote, and Nationwide. If I view or click on any of these ads the Irish Times makes money - maybe they should have a license for that?


  1. Hi Eugene, I just spotted this. As I hope my piece and comments by Hugh Linehan, the Editor of, have mades clear that The Irish Times' does not expect payment for URLs.

  2. Hi Johnny - many thanks for responding and clarifying this. Happy to publish your comment.